I was there, were you ?
The Wigan Casino was a nightclub in Wigan, England. Operating between 1973 and 1981, it became known as a primary venue for northern soul music. It carried forward the legacy created by clubs such as the Twisted Wheel in Manchester, the Chateau Impney (Droitwich), the Catacombs (Wolverhampton) and the Golden Torch (Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent). It remains one of the most famous clubs in Northern England.
This England, a TV documentary about the Wigan Casino, was filmed in 1977. In 1978, the American music magazine Billboard voted Wigan Casino” The Best Disco in the World”, ahead of New York’s Studio 54. Russ Winstanley and Dave Nowell wrote a history of the club, Soul Survivors, The Wigan Casino Story, which was published in 1996. A stage play by Mick Martin about the Wigan Casino years, Once upon a time in Wigan, debuted in February 2003 at the Contact Theatre in Manchester, and has since toured nationally.
Wigan Casino was the name of the last incarnation of a Wigan ballroom called the Empress. Local DJ Russ Winstanley and Wigan Casino manager Mike Walker approached lease owner Gerry Marshall to run all-nighters. Walker brought Winstanley, who had a DJ set at the local rugby club, to the Casino Club. At 2am on Sunday, 23 September 1973, Wigan Casino opened its doors for its first ever Northern Soul all-nighter, with Winstanley as the DJ. Soul performers that performed there include Jackie Wilson, Edwin Starr and Junior Walker.
Young people from all over the UK regularly made the trek to Wigan Casino to hear the latest northern soul artists and to dance. Queues to get in were sometimes five or six people deep, and stretched quite a way up the road. The second dance floor, Mr. M’s, stayed open until 6 am and played oldies songs from a variety of DJs. Every all-nighter traditionally ended with three songs that became known as the 3 before 8: “Time Will Pass You By” by Tobi Legend, “Long After Tonight Is All Over” by Jimmy Radcliffe, and “I’m on My Way” by Dean Parrish. Parrish is still active on the northern soul circuit. Over four million people attended the Soul Sessions which had early sessions every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Wigan Council owned the building and wanted to extend the nearby Civic Centre, but short of funding, it never went ahead. The club was closed on 6 December 1981; that final night of Wigan Casino in its northern soul state was DJ’d by Winstanley, and the 3 before 8 were played three times consecutively at the end of the night. The crowd refused to leave, so according to Winstanley, to “break this spell of hysteria” he picked a 7″ at random from his box and played that. This final Wigan Casino song became one of the most famous northern soul songs of all time, Frank Wilson’s “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)”. Annual reunions are held in Wigan hosted by the original DJs.
The site is now occupied by the Grand Arcade shopping centre, which pays homage to the club with its Casino Café.